DA begins mass layoff appeal process

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The first appeal action to challenge a wave of layoffs by Riverside County Superior Court judges trying to resolve a backlog that has built up during the COVID shutdowns is underway, the chief prosecutor announced today. County.

District Attorney Mike Hestrin said the agency wants People v. Jose Luis Tapia be committed to trial. This is a machete attack in the Blythe area.

Prosecutors filed an emergency writ late last week, advising the Riverside Fourth District Court of Appeals that they are challenging the trial court’s decision to dismiss the case and are prepared to plead the case. merits of continuing the proceedings, rather than allowing the defendant to leave without answering the charges.

Tapia is one of approximately 350 criminal cases dismissed since Oct. 10 by county judges, citing a lack of available court resources — or courtroom space — to receive a speedy disposition by trial, such as the guarantees the constitution of the state.

The case is one of approximately 2,800 cases that have piled up on county court records since the California Chief Justice’s Office amended court operations statewide in 2020, allowing continuous postponements, in the midst of closures.

However, all of the Chief Justice‘s emergency orders expired on October 7.

“Unless the courts stop these dismissals, the backlog of criminal cases will grow and our justice system will risk collapsing,” Hestrin said in a video message posted last week.

The majority of cases dismissed to date have involved domestic violence cases.

“When a judge dismisses a domestic violence case, they are also ending the victim’s criminal protection order. This is nothing less than an injustice and a disservice to victims and public safety” , Hestrin said.

Superior Court Presiding Judge John Monterosso issued a statement on Tuesday acknowledging that the justice system is carrying a heavy burden, related to the closings and the resulting changes to the operation of the courts.

“I share the frustration of others when a case is not resolved on the merits, or due process is compromised, due to a lack of available judicial resources,” Monterosso said. “The genesis of the current conjuncture
is the chronic, generational lack of judges assigned to serve Riverside County.”

He pointed out that the county has 90 licensed and funded court positions, but a 2020 court needs assessment study noted that 115 court officers are needed to ensure effective operations across the local court system and avoid traffic jams.

“The waiver of statutory time limits for criminal trials under emergency orders has delayed the ‘court day’ for many defendants and those affected by the alleged crimes,” Monterosso said. “Although the law permits a court to pursue a case beyond the statutory time limit for ‘good cause’, the determination of whether ‘good cause’ exists is an individualized decision made by the trial judge. based on the law and the facts of the case.”

Hestrin sympathized with the fact “we have far fewer … judicial seats than we need based on population”.

“But that has been the case for as long as anyone can remember,” he said. “Before the pandemic, we hadn’t had a criminal case dismissed for lack of a courtroom in over a decade.”

He said defendants whose cases have been repeatedly delayed are watching the current drama unfold and ‘have no incentive to resolve a case before trial’ as long as holding on may lead. ultimately to dismissal.

“This situation is unsustainable and poses a danger to the public,” Hestrin said. “We’re not asking for a specific outcome. We’re asking the judges to look at the facts of the cases and the backlog.”

Monterosso countered that judges are stepping up their efforts to accommodate trial demands, often summoning potential jurors for screening late on weekdays in courtrooms where juries in other cases are still deliberating.

However, Hestrin said earlier this month, 500 potential jurors who were to be assigned to courtrooms were sent home, with judges refusing to accept requests for “briefs” postponed until the courtrooms are available.

“(It) looks like poor resource management,” the DA said. “If we have an emergency in our courts that warrants the dismissal of a felony, then it should be an emergency in every courtroom across the county and should warrant a comprehensive approach to trying cases.”

He recommended longer hours each weekday, starting night courts and even weekend court hours to eliminate the backlog. It was unclear what overtime costs and other budget pressures these actions might precipitate.

The current backlog is reminiscent of the cumulative impact of a backlog of unsolved criminal cases in 2007 that prompted the state to send a judicial strike team to the county to help triage criminal cases clogging the court system.

At the time, the Superior Court all but halted civil jury trials for months while judges focused on easing the strain on resources. An empty primary school has even been turned into a makeshift courthouse.

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